One thing I do love about working for the courts as a mediator, especially in Small Claims, is you never are sure what you might get to mediate. You might know the basics of a case from the motion and reply but often when amounts are $7500.00 or less, there is a lot more going on than cash. In my experience, emotions tend to be high in many of those cases because parties, more often than not, seem to be suing or fighting the suit on "principal."
I was handed a file one morning in Small Claims and it looked like a pretty basic case regarding damaged personal property. I was told I would need to wait to start communicating with the parties until their interpreters arrived. No biggie, right? Spanish, Hebrew, French, whatever. A foreign language was not a big deal and I had mediated many of those.
The interpreters arrived and they introduced themselves. They then introduced me to the parties...in sign language. Not one side, not two sides, but there were THREE sides (and at least two parties to each side) to this case all of whom were hearing impaired. Every side, as legally required, had their own sign language interpreter. There were numerous other factors to this case, including some parties were cousins and none of the sides were allowed to be in the same room together because of some history, which put a whole other kink in the system and instantly I knew this would be a long mediation.
I did not have time to look up the protocol on how to speak through an interpreter to someone who was hearing impaired so I quickly thought back to college where I had taken a film class and would always initially sit behind the hearing impaired boy to watch his interpreter. I had always found it fascinating and interesting, not to mention sort of cool to see how different words were signed. Instinct and remembering how people who were not hearing impaired would communicate with him saved me that day.
So how does a mediator, lawyer, basically anyone, communicate with a hearing impaired person who has an interpreter?
1. First, as with any party to a case, be polite. It sounds basic but have respect as you would with anyone else.
2. Do not give the hearing impaired person "special treatment." Respect does not meaning going out of your way to introduce the party to everyone you meet. Especially do not put them "on display" to let everyone know they are hearing impaired. The person may not want everyone to know. Just be friendly, professional, and treat them as you would any other party to a case.
3. DO NOT talk to the interpreter. Talk directly to the hearing impaired party. The person is still a party in the case and present, whether there is an interpreter or not. As in any situation in which you would use an interpreter, do not ask the interpreter to "tell" the party what you want them to know. The court interpreters are REQUIRED to repeat EXACTLY what you say, so if you say, "Tell him his cousin said the dog was there," the interpreter will repeat exactly that. Instead say, while looking at the party, "Your cousin said the dog was there." Many times hearing impaired can read lips and will use the interpreter as well as look at the speaker so this is yet another reason to always face and speak directly to the hearing impaired party.
4. If you need to get the hearing impaired party's attention, a small tap on the arm or hand or a slight wave should be enough. Making overemphasized motions, especially ones that might startle the person, is rude. Additionally, do NOT speak louder. That one should be self explanatory.
5. Lip-reading was mentioned above but remember to speak very distinctly when the party is lip-reading. You do not need to slow down as long as you are pronouncing words clearly. Also remember not to have any type of obstruction between you and the person.
Not all hearing impaired parties communicate, or want to communicate, in the same way. Lip-reading, interpreters and a combination of both may make the person more comfortable. Some are comfortable speaking aloud. Others do not want to. Bottom-line: As with any other party in a case, be respectful!!!
I would love to hear your thoughts and anything I may have failed to address here. Any additional situations and experiences may be added.